Boy, that rascal Rich Strike is just full of surprises, isn’t he?
First he shocks the racing world with an 80-1 stunner in the Kentucky Derby, becoming the second-biggest longshot to win the race behind only Donerail’s 91-1 in 1913.
On Thursday, the colt’s owner, Rick Dawson, surprised us with the announcement that Rich Strike will skip the Preakness Stakes on May 21 and wait for the Belmont three weeks later, thus depriving us of a possible 14th Triple Crown winner.
Of course, I’m kidding. Even if Rich Strike tried the Preakness, his odds of winning the Triple Crown would make his 80-1 Derby odds look tame.
The reasoning behind the decision is understandable. They’re looking out for the horse, which is what they should do.
“Our original plan for Rich Strike was contingent on the Kentucky Derby,” Dawson said in a statement. “Should we not run in the Derby, we would point toward the Preakness. Should we run in the Derby, subject to the race outcome and the condition of our horse, we would give him more recovery time and rest and run in the Belmont or another race and stay on course to run with five or six weeks’ rest between races.
“Obviously, with our tremendous effort and win in the Derby, it’s very, very tempting to alter our course and run in the Preakness at Pimlico, which would be a great honor for all our group. However, after much discussion and consideration with my trainer Eric Reed and a few others, we are going to stay with our plan of, ‘what’s best for Richie is what’s best for our group,’ and pass on running in the Preakness and point toward the Belmont in approximately five weeks.”
Thirteen years ago, I wrote in my column that you could draw a line through Mine That Bird, that he had no chance to win the Derby. Well, jockey Calvin Borel took care of that prediction with a rail-skimming ride to win at 50-1.
On Saturday, I hosted a Derby party and told friends as the field loaded that Rich Strike was “just taking up space. He should be 280-1, not 80-1.” You think I would have learned something after I was left with egg on my face in 2009.
But really, no serious handicapper had Rich Strike anywhere near his or her top selections. Not even close. His only victory before Saturday was a win in a $30,000 maiden claiming race at Churchill Downs in September. His Beyer Speed Figures were miles short of the top contenders, and he was being ridden by a jockey who’s more accustomed to the small tracks in Ohio than the bright lights of Churchill Downs.
This wasn’t an upset. It wasn’t a shocker. It was more like the Miracle Mets of 1969. It just wasn’t supposed to happen, not against horses that had beaten him by double-digit lengths just recently.
So how did it happen? Two main reasons.
Summer Is Tomorrow and Crown Pride ran an unfathomable 21.48 opening quarter and a 45.36 half mile. It was if they were in a quarter-horse race rather than the mile-and-a-quarter Derby. It was insane. No surprise that Summer Is Tomorrow was eased and finished last. Crown Pride, to his credit, finished 13th.
The obscure Sonny Leon, who regularly rides at the smaller tracks in Ohio, rode the race of his life in his first Derby. Rich Strike had only two horses beaten early on when Leon saved ground by guiding Rich Strike to the rail and then staging a remarkable rally in the stretch that was set up by the blistering early pace.
“I had to wait until the stretch and that’s what I did,” Leon said. “I waited and then the rail opened up. I wasn’t nervous, I was excited. Nobody knows my horse like I know my horse.”
Reed was still on top of the world four days after the race.
“I think for two minutes and two seconds, the world forgot about politics and war and COVID,” he told Pimlico publicity. “I think for two minutes and two seconds, people got a sigh of relief from all this anxiety we live with today. He did it, not me or anyone else. Richie gave us two minutes of peace.”
Santa Anita horse racing consensus picks for Friday May 13
Santa Anita horse racing consensus picks for Sunday May 8
80-1 shot Rich Strike races to huge upset in Kentucky Derby
Santa Anita horse racing consensus picks for Saturday May 7
Medina Spirit was pulled by the forelegs into a world that let him down
What made Rich Strike’s miracle victory even more astonishing is that he became the first Derby winner to be claimed before his run to glory. He was bought out of that September race by Dawson. Only two other Derby winners – Charismatic in 1999 and Mine That Bird – had run for a claiming tag, but both went unclaimed.
The story becomes more amazing by the day.
Follow Art Wilson on Twitter @Sham73